Thu. Jan 27th, 2022

Electoral Bill: Uncertainty As Buhari Snubs N/Assembly, Declines Assent

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Members of the National Assembly last night expressed reservations as President Muhammadu Buhari refused to act on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill presented to him for assent by the legislature, 30 days ago DailyTrust reports.

The 30-day window for President Buhari to assent the bill elapsed last night. As of the time of filing this story, there was no official communication to the parliament and Nigerians from the presidency on the fate of the much-anticipated bill.

Both the Senate President Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila, had at different times met with President Buhari over the bill and expressed confidence that he would assent to it.

Some of the lawmakers knocked the president, who returned to the country from Istanbul, Turkey, where he attended the third Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit, hosted by the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The National Assembly had, on November 19, transmitted the bill to President Buhari for assent in line with the constitutional provision.

Section 58 (4) of the 1999 Constitution says, “Where a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within 30 days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds assent.”

While the political and civil society actors waited with bated breath for the president’s action on the bill, it emerged last week that the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), had written a letter to Buhari, highlighting the problems with the inclusion of mandatory direct primaries in the Electoral Act amendment bill.

He informed the president that making direct primaries mandatory for all political parties could cause confusion.

A source told Daily Trust Sunday that the president will communicate to the leadership of the parliament today, where he is expected to raise reservation with clause 87, which provides for direct primary.

There has been a cold war between federal lawmakers and governors over the inclusion of direct primaries in the bill, with the latter mounting pressure on the president to reject the provision.

Various Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) Sunday asked the parliament to override the president’s veto to pass the bill into law.

Recalled that in June 2000, the National Assembly passed the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) bill with over two-thirds majority, thus overriding President Olusegun Obasanjo’s veto.

A cross section of senators told Daily Trust Sunday that before they embark on the end of the year recess this week, a decision would be taken on the electoral bill should the president withhold assent.

A Senator close to the presiding officers, said they are yet to receive any communication from the president regarding the bill.

Speaking to one of our correspondents, the lawmaker said action would be taken when the president communicates his decision on the bill to them.

“For sometimes, there have been pressure that we should invoke the 2/3 rule as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution if the president fails to assent it. Discussions are on along this line but there are a lot of things that would be looked at before we can arrive at anything,” he said.

Another ranking lawmaker said the president was being misled by his handlers to cause confusion in the polity.

“He would not assent to it because he is being misled by people around him and he likes to hear that. They are doing this to cause confusion in the polity. It would be difficult for us to override the president’s veto because we cannot get the 2/3,” he said last night.

But Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano), expressed optimism that the president will act on the bill.

Another senator who spoke to one of our correspondents said, “We passed the bill to strengthen the country’s democratic process, especially the conduct of our elections. From reactions that trailed the passage, it shows that majority of Nigerians are in support of the bill.

“Certain people, very few in number, who are not comfortable with some sections of the bill are expressing reservations. We, in the National Assembly, will continue to act in the interest of the majority of Nigerians, who we represent. Our action on the electoral bill will not be different. Nigerians should wait patiently.”

Another senator, referring to state governors, said “They tried to lobby us to rescind our decision on direct primary but failed. They now transferred the pressure on the president to reject the bill.”

He said if the process of conducting primary elections is optional, elective offices would be populated with incompetent cronies.

Senate spokesperson, Senator Ajibola Basiru declined to comment on possible options the Red Chamber is weighing on the electoral bill after the expiration of the 30-day timeline.

Asked further on what Nigerians should expect from the Senate should Buhari decline assent, he said; “I don’t have any comment on it,” and hung off.

Rep Tanko Sununu (APC, Kebbi) while responding to questions on the matter said it was too early for him to make comments since the president was yet to communicate to House on whether he has assented or declined assent.

“For me, I won’t say the president has turned down assent or has assented because, there are formal channels of communication of which by Tuesday’s sitting, we should be able to know whether the president has assented or not.

“And that will definitely guide the decision the House will take. I don’t want to preempt what the president has done or has not done. Had it been he has not assented to and it is made public, then I can comment”, he said.

Speaking in the same vein, a lawmaker from the South South geopolitical zone, said it would be preemptive to begin to comment on the next move of the lawmakers since it has not been ascertained that the president has withheld his assent.

Rep Babangida Ibrahim (APC, Katsina), said, “The President must communicate whether he assented to the bill or not. You know Saturdays and Sundays are not working days. So, you cannot say whether he has rejected it or not.”

Presidential aides on National Assembly, Senator Babajide Omoworare (Senate) and Umar Ibrahim El-Yakub were unavailable for comments last night.

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